Lifestyle

Reno in London fashions life, love: Mercer Island native takes on modeling, acting, designing and marriage

Courtesy photo/Noelle Reno Model ‘Poppy’ shows off a blue jumper from the Degrees of Freedom line, which is designed by former Islander Noelle Reno. -
Courtesy photo/Noelle Reno Model ‘Poppy’ shows off a blue jumper from the Degrees of Freedom line, which is designed by former Islander Noelle Reno.
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It’s amazing that Noelle Reno, the jetsetting model-turned-actress-turned-clothing designer, said that at one point, she lacked self confidence.

The 23-year-old Mercer Island native is currently spearheading a clothing line, living in London and is engaged to Matthew Mellon — a billionaire who hails from an American banking family and is the former husband to Jimmy Choo’s president and founder, Tamara Mellon.

For the blonde, disarmingly honest Reno, the drive for success began at an early age — even while she was attending St. Monica’s and Mercer Island High School here on the Island.

“I was reading ‘Vogue’ at the age of 10 and I loved the fantasy of fashion,” she said. “It almost seemed like I never connected to the humdrum of Mercer Island. I had a difficult time growing up there purely because it felt like suburbia can stifle individuality.”

That’s part of the reason Reno felt she had to work hard to make it “on her own.”

When she was growing up, a neighbor who was into modeling pulled Reno in. By 15, Reno was in Japan, and at 16 she was in Europe. At the age of 17, Reno moved to South Africa because an agency there wanted to represent her.

“I fell in love with [South Africa] immediately,” said Reno. “It was a real culture shock, but I liked the diversity, the history and the African people.” Reno drove around a barely running Volkswagen beetle and was robbed a few times, but has absolutely no regrets about her experiences. Even now, she said Africa and Paris are her favorite places to work; thought Thailand is her favorite vacation spot.

Reno also dove head-first into an acting career. By the time she was 21, she had already taken acting classes in Los Angeles and appeared in two horror films, “Ice Queen” and “Devour,” as well as a smattering of commercials.

“I did acting when I was younger and I wish I had stuck with it,” she said when contemplating how her childhood activities and passions contribute to her current career. “To be honest, I don’t think I had the confidence to do it. I was diverted.”

While she was pursuing acting full-time, Reno met Matthew Mellon through mutual friends. Reno said that at first, she didn’t see him as a potential date because of their age difference — he’s 43 — but one thing led to another.

“I didn’t look at him in view of anything like that at first,” Reno said, laughing. “We went out for drinks because we had people in common throughout the world. He was just in town for work.”

Reno ended up visiting him in London later on, and pretty much stayed put.

“The visit turned into a month, and we just went from there,” the now-Londoner said.

Reno studied at the American University in London for a while, and ended up engaged to Mellon. The pair got engaged in Paris, where Mellon proposed to Reno in a helicopter as they flew over the Eiffel Tower.

Reno’s view of relationships is one of steady commitment and support, but she believes women should have more on their mind than marriage.

“We’ll probably get married in a year or so,” she said. “But we’re in no rush; we’re together, and it doesn’t really matter because we’re committed to each other, and that’s what’s important.”

Reno and Mellon are, in fact, so committed, that they have ventured into the fashion business as partners. Reno started the Degrees of Freedom line, of which Mellon is the financial backer and CEO. The line attempts to fill the gap in luxury loungewear with a series of jersey knit and cashmere pieces adorned with zipper-pulls that double as jewelry.

“The tracksuits thing is big, but there’s a market above Juicy that is more fashion-forward,” said Reno. “We wanted to make something beautiful and something unique.”

They began conceptualizing it last May and were in China for manufacturing by July. In November, Reno said it really got going. The line recently hit stores in the United Kingdom, and is headed to the United States by Fall 2007. The store’s Web site, www.degreesoffreedom.co.uk, will also launch an e-store any day now.

Reno seems to have settled in to all of her roles, famously. She even helps look after Matthew and Tamara Mellon’s 5-year-old daughter, Minty.

Reno’s very outlook on life seems to derive from finding a blend of ideas and activities that make life work. Though she’s achieved a lot in her 23 years, she attributes her success to ambition and drive, but still keeps her head out of the clouds.

“I’m lucky that I have been pretty grounded,” she said. “The problem with role models is they are people and they make mistakes. So I think that I look at a lot of people and take the good and the successes. I really take a bit from various people.”

But the best role model for her, Reno said, “Is any female who’s done it on her own.”

Reno has done that, and much more.

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